Guest Stories

A Father’s Day Story: Celebrating Theme Park Dads

June 16, 2023
Meaghan Kelly, wearing a blue shirt, a necklace, jean shorts, and a blue, pink, and black Universal jacket, holds out her right arm in a diagonal above her head, and hugs her father with her left arm. Her father, wearing a light blue shirt and darker blue shorts, does the same thing in the opposite direction. They smile as they sit in front of a railing overlooking water at CityWalk. The Universal Globe and Universal Studios Florida Arch can be seen in the background, and the sky is fairly clear, though a bit dark.

June has always been one of my favorite months of the year. No, not because it holds National Selfie Day, National Social Media Day, or Take Your Dog To Work Day (although those are in fact three of my favorite things). It’s because June is the month I get to celebrate one of the best people in the universe, my father! So, this one’s for you, dad!

Growing up in Florida, my family and I were no strangers to theme park vacations. And if you know my dad, you know he has a heart of gold and will do absolutely anything to make sure his family has the best day ever. My dad was always our champion backpack carrier, snack provider, parade spot holder, and — arguably one of the most important qualities in a Theme Park Dad — he loved to have FUN!

Of his three daughters, I was the only one brave enough to try any ride more intense than the Caro-Seuss-el. This meant that on our annual summer vacation in 2007, I was the prime candidate when it came time to join my dad on his favorite attraction, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, in Marvel Super Hero Island at Universal Islands of Adventure. Since he was the one who first introduced me to the Spider-Man franchise, it was only fitting he would be the one to convince me to step right into the world of our favorite web-slinger. As a nervous 11-year-old, although I was hesitant about volunteering myself to take a front-row seat for the chaos that I was sure was about to ensue, I was willing to take on the challenge to spend some highly cherished one-on-one time with my dad. As the oldest child in our family, it was also my duty to be the one that would rise to any challenge; therefore, I pressed on through the glass doors and into the lobby of The Daily Bugle.

Meaghan Kelly, wearing a dark tank top and necklace, stands at an angle to the right of her dad, who is wearing a light blue T-shirt and stands at an angle such that the two are angled toward each other. Their outer arms(Meaghan's left arm, her dad's right arm) are bent at the elbow, and the hands point out. Their fingers are all extended out except their middle and ring fingers, making the famous Spider-Man web-slinging hand movement. They stand smiling in front of the entrance to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Universal Islands of Adventure, seemingly at night. The entrance to the building is primarily lit up in red, with black mixed in. The words "The Amazing Adventures Of" are lit in neon-like red, while the words "Spider-Man" are lit in neon-like yellow. Blurred people are walking behind the pair, in front of the entrance.

Traversing the attraction’s queue meant sharing laughs over the highly realistic sandwiches on the journalists’ desks and pondering the questionably motivational posters (which are both elements I still get a kick out of to this day). As we approached the loading area for my first official go against the Sinister Syndicate, a Team Member handed me something I wasn’t expecting — a pair of 3-D glasses.

I hesitated. You see, while I had mustered the guts to partake on the high-flying journey to defeat the bad guys, I decided that supervillains popping straight out at me would make things a little TOO real. Therefore, I opted to keep the glasses safe and sound in my lap. Well, as safe as they can be when you’re voyaging high and low throughout New York City dodging electric shocks, anti-gravity ray beams, and fiery pumpkins. I quickly learned an adventure in the Scoop was no ordinary car ride — when Electro says you’re in for a shock, you better believe it!

It never fails to make me laugh remembering the many times I spent gripping the lap bar with half-shut eyes (and with blurry vision for the small amount I did see) just to spend quality time with my dad. To this day, I make sure to send a “wish you were here!” text to him whenever I ride, which is quite frequently — and yes, I have conquered my fear and now wear the 3-D glasses with pride! Unsurprisingly, the ride is 10 times better with them on.

There are so many more stories I could share about the antics my dad and I have gotten into at the Universal Orlando Resort theme parks — from the time he volunteered to single handedly chaperone a gaggle of preteen girls on my eighth grade class trip to Islands of Adventure (see? heart of gold) to the time he took my sister and me to Loews Sapphire Falls Resort because we were desperately craving the sweet, sweet milkshakes from New Dutch Trading Co. The common denominator in these stories, though, is they all involve me sharing my favorite place in the world with one of my favorite people!

From their side-splitting character impressions to their innate need to provide a fake name at E.T. Adventure every time (my dad’s go-to name is Wally), there’s no one better than dads to provide a truly memorable theme park experience. To all of the Universal dads out there — happy Father’s Day! We hope your day is an epic one.

Meaghan Kelly, wearing a blue shirt, a necklace, and a blue, pink, and black Universal jacket, stands next to her father, who is wearing a light blue shirt on her left. They smile as they stand in front of a railing overlooking water at CityWalk. The father has his right hand on the railing. The Universal Globe and Universal Studios Florida Arch can be seen in the background, and the sky is fairly clear, though a bit dark.

Do you have any memorable stories with your father at Universal Orlando Resort? Share them with us on social media or in the comments below!

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10 Comments

  • Reply Kaitlyn Mangham June 16, 2023 at 11:02 am

    Amazing article! Thank you for sharing these memories.

    • Reply Meaghan Kelly June 26, 2023 at 1:14 pm

      Thank you, they were fun to look back on!

  • Reply Susan June 18, 2023 at 8:04 am

    Awesome article, written with lots of love!

    • Reply Meaghan Kelly June 26, 2023 at 1:15 pm

      It absolutely was! 🙂

  • Reply John Kelly June 18, 2023 at 8:39 am

    What a sweet post! Thanks for sharing your memories Meaghan!

  • Reply Lisa Perlman June 18, 2023 at 9:01 am

    Meaghan, you’re a great writer! I have to concur about your dad: he’s a great guy. Very nice! I’ve known him since Junior High and he has always been a nice person.
    My husband, Rich (who also has been in school with your dad since junior high) would go on rides with my youngest, Karah, at Islands of Adventure. They went on The Hulk once. Yup. That was it. Once! Lol. He prefers the Universal Parks. We have had great times there as a family.
    Once again, Meaghan, you are a wonderful writer! Thanks for sharing your memories. 😀

    • Reply Meaghan Kelly June 26, 2023 at 1:17 pm

      Thank you for sharing yours as well, Lisa!!

  • Reply Tracey Pitocchelli June 18, 2023 at 10:31 pm

    What an awesome tribute to an amazing dad and person!

  • Reply Karen Mullins June 19, 2023 at 11:17 am

    Wow! What a ride… oh I wasn’t there! hmm. Great story, I enjoyed feeling like it was my dad and we were having a blast. I love that you still text him “wish you were here..” before you ride. This was so special. Happy Father’s Day to YOU Meg for celebrating your dad as you just did. How special.

    • Reply Meaghan Kelly June 26, 2023 at 1:15 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the read! Thank you so much!

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